Jaime King showed off her luscious lips for our Beauty Junkie column, in which our Contibuting Beauty Director Walter Obal detailed how to get those gorgeous looks with a combination of lipsticks and liners. While the lovely King is used to sitting still for the camera, we couldn’t let the actress lay totally stationary. In a short film by photographer Sarah Silver, Ms. King jumps off the pages and shows that her versatility isn’t limited to her lips. Check out the video after the jump!
Jaime King is used to radical change. When she was a scant 14 years old, King was whisked from the cornfields of Nebraska to the apex of modelhood, driven by the pressure and temptation of the industry into an adolescent drug addiction—hers was the face of heroin chic—and then flamed out. Now in her early thirties, King has re-emerged as a leading actor. Her series Hart of Dixie is on the CW, and her directorial debut, a thriller called Polar Seasons, is due out soon. “I definitely feel like I’ve lived two lives,” says King. But in all her iterations, her lips—pursed, parted, perfect—have followed her. The key is to deploy your resources wisely. “By filling in the entire lip with lip liner, one adds depth and complexity of color.” Pairing two shades—one under, one over—gives options. Looks can be matte or glossy, monotone or diaphonous. But on King, they’re always just right.
Check out the gallery below for details on how to get Jaime’s looks, and stay tuned for our exclusive video of the shoot!
Some musicians thrive in the pool-party, palm-tree, freeway fantasia of Los Angeles. And Electric Guest, the two-man band made up of Asa Taccone and Matthew Compton, seems to be such a group. Their debut album, Mondo, was produced by the Midas of Music, Danger Mouse. And their month-long residency in February at L.A.’s The Echo became a bazaar for trading hipster cred. But that would be incorrect. One need only to watch the dark video for their single “American Daydream,” directed by Asa’s brother Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island fame, to be convinced of their latent disdain. Taccone, whose warble channels Jamiroquai and who resembles a skinnier, feral Mark Wahlberg, crashes a classic valley party and launches an airborne assault on the otherwise anodyne, if vapid, guests. Taccone ends bloody but triumphant. This all is accompanied by a simmering catchy chant of a chorus: “They keep sellin’ / We don’t want it / So close to it / Almost found a way.”
“The L.A. world constantly bums me out,” admits Taccone, “and a lot of the album is kind of about just how empty that world is culturally.” Though the genre-skipping Mondo is about the hassles of a plasticine world, to call it only a reactionary manifesto is equally misleading. Taccone, who grew up in Berkeley, began writing the songs while living in his apartment in Seattle nearly six years ago. “I would call up my brother and sing him these songs. One day he said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a friend named Brian who would love this stuff.’” That friend was Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse.
After Taccone moved to Los Angeles at his brother’s behest for an ultimately elusive career as a songwriter for hire, he met Matthew Compton, a shy, all-American kid who lived downstairs from him in Mount Washington. The two began to flesh out the songs which Taccone had brought south with him. Remnants of the artist as a young man are still apparent. In one song Taccone sings, “They say it’s never easy when you’re 23 / And maybe that’s a lie and it’s just hard as fuck for me.” Now, distilled into a potent hook by Danger Mouse, that line has become both more compelling and less true. With their debut album generating more buzz than a bad connection, Electric Guest might not like Los Angeles, but Los Angeles, and nearly everyone else, loves Electric Guest.
Billy Campbell’s back in Vancouver and loving every gray, rain-soaked minute of it. The actor has been a sporadic resident since 1998, and he’s currently in town filming the second season of The Killing, the AMC crime drama in which he stars as Darren Richmond, a cagey politician in a town riveted by the unsolved murder of a young girl. But Campbell’s no interloper. Not only does he own his own spectacular loft in Yaletown, he also boasts a laundry list of Vancouver bona fides, having hiked the notorious Grouse Grind, shredded nearby Cypress Mountain on a snowboard, jogged through Stanley Park, surfed the frigid waves off Vancouver Island, and “contemplated” the Sun Yat-Sen Gardens in Chinatown with the aid of a certain homegrown specialty. Most important, though, is his affection for the city’s notoriously bleak weather. “I wake up here and it’s gray and rainy, but I feel like it’s a sunny day,” he says, which might explain his good cheer as he takes us to his favorite spots for dining, drinking, and relaxing by a fire during a typically damp day in “Hollywood North.”
+Alpha Izakaya Tapas Bar 1099 Richards Street, 604-633-0355 Vancouver is a city of sushi bars, but I hardly go anywhere else. There was a time I was coming here every night. I had a Japanese girlfriend who said, “Let me take you where we eat.” The izakaya here is imaginative. One of my favorites is an Italian Spring Roll (mozzarella cheese, fresh tomato, and basil in deep-fried spring roll).
The Railway Club 579 Dunsmuir Street, 604-681-1625 Vancouver’s got some terrific little music venues, and The Railway is sort of the mothership. They do this crazy sing-along the first Monday of every month that’s a Vancouver institution—as is the bartender, Dana, and her espresso martinis. It’s full of characters, and I love everything from the model train that runs along the ceiling to the kitschy Prince Charles and Princess Diana needlepoint in the back bar.
The Keefer Bar 135 Keefer Street, 604-688-1961 Two of my costars live near this place. I almost did too, but I think I dodged a bullet because I’d be here all the time. The gin rosemary cocktail Gez the bartender makes is unbelievable. Plus they have great small plates like dim sum, spring rolls, and Peking duck sliders which are perfect late night snacks.
Market by Jean-Georges 1115 Alberni Street, 604-695-1115 I heard the lead bartender here, Jay Jones, is one of the best in Canada. Here’s why I believe it: One of my favorite books is Alfred Lansing’s Endurance about the explorer Ernest Shackleton’s most famous expedition to Antarctica. So when, out of the blue, my man Jay brought out his commemorative bottle of whiskey blended to replicate a case Shackleton lost in Antarctic ice 102 years ago, what was left of my mind was totally blown.
Go Fish Ocean Emporium 1505 W. 1st Avenue (@ Fisherman’s Wharf), 604-730-5040 This glorified fish shack is close to Granville Island Market, but not everyone knows that it’s open year-round. These guys have huge line-ups every day in the summertime. But I just found out they’re open in the winter, too. Some- times it’s just me and the co-owner, Wanda. The fish couldn’t be fresher, or her wit more dry. They have a sister restaurant up the hill that’s a sit-down place serving beer, but I prefer just standing at the counter out on the water.
The Billy Bishop Branch 176 Royal Canadian Legion 1407 Laburnum Street, 604-738-4142 I spent the best New Year’s Eve here by the fire with my milliner friend Kelly Dunlap. After talking about videogames and nerd stuff with Simmer the bartender and mingling with the old guys, I realized I had to become a member. It cost me sixty bucks. It’s the most authentic English-style pub I’ve found in Vancouver, and to top it off, it used to be a rugby club, and that’s my favorite sport.
During his act, comedian James Adomian sometimes breaks from his deep voice while delivering his jokes. Slipping into an effeminate affectation, he shouts, “Where’s my gays at?!” Coming from Adomian, whose fratboy appearance complements his aggressive brand of comedy—it includes political impressions ranging from George W. Bush to Jesse “The Body” Ventura—the transition is off-putting. That is, until he reveals he’s gay. “I fuck men,” he says later in the act, “and sometimes they fuck me.”
“There certainly is what you would call, ‘gay comedy,’ but I don’t know if that’s what I do,” Adomian later explains. “If I’m doing stand-up as myself, which is my main focus at a show, I generally try to say something about being a man who dates men. There certainly are people who hide who they are, but I don’t have to hide who I am, and I don’t think most people do. [The comedic world] is certainly getting better in that sense.”
While Adomian is one of a handful of gay comics making names for themselves, he still represents a niche group within the comedy world that hasn’t yet broken through to a mainstream audience. While Todd Glass had a successful career before he came out of the closet on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast in January, and Billy Eichner’s Billy on the Street is a hilarious example of agenda-free humor, there are still very few successful gay men in comedy who are challenging the typical ideas of gay identity.
Most gay comics either play stand-up shows to tiny audiences or mince about as caricatures in mainstream movies, doing more harm than good. In a 2007 Vanity Fair piece, the provocateur Christopher Hitchens infamously claimed that women aren’t funny (although he did give a pass to Jewish women and “dykes,”), a theory that was quickly debunked not only in rebuttals in Vanity Fair but by the success of films like Bridesmaids. So where is the Bridesmaids for gay men?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one. Gay men in film have historically fit into two roles: the best friends of the female protagonist (The Devil Wears Prada, My Best Friend’s Wedding), or the victims of an untimely death, usually from an AIDS-related illness (Philadelphia) or a hate crime (Brokeback Mountain). If they are kept alive for two hours or manage to evade certain doom for a few seasons, gay men frequently appear as flaming queens—sassy, fashionable, and slightly sociopathic.
“I think Hollywood script writers have just recently discovered the phenomenon of the masculine gay man,” says Adomian, who was a finalist on Last Comic Standing in 2010. “There are a lot of people who are beginning to feel comfortable being themselves and not fitting into the straight narrative, but they may not follow the standard gay pattern of going to the White Party, dancing with their fabulous asses, and having a witty repartee about Judy Garland. I mean, I love Judy Garland, but I also like Johnny Cash. There are a lot of people that don’t really fit into boxes that have been established for them.”
Gabe Liedman co-hosts with Max Silvestri and Jenny Slate, formerly of SNL, a comedy show called Big Terrific in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While he does sometimes out himself on stage, he quickly follows it up with, “Not that I needed to tell you that. You can hear my voice.” While Liedman’s voice might be a tip-off, his material is more focused on the neuroses of everyday life—the wheelhouse of comics for years. “Straight comics talk about their sex lives and dating; it’s a go-to in comedy,” he explains, “I don’t want to avoid that huge wealth of material.”
Liedman is unapologetic when it comes to dating and sex, which he touches on in a surprisingly brash manner that is incongruous with his polite demeanor. In one bit, he complains about being the one to whom his female friends complain about the complicated nature of their genitals. “Oh yeah?” he responds. “Does your pussy fill up with shit every day?” Though the concept of anal sex might be threatening, even straight men can laugh at the gross-out humor. “When I’m on stage, I try to identify who seems like the straightest guy in the audience,” he says. “I let my eyes go back to him [during that joke], and so far, he’s always been laughing.”
There may be legions of gay comics, but few have found major success even amongst gay audiences, yet some of the most popular comedians able to sell-out large venues—such as Kathy Griffin—cater mostly to gay men. Griffin is catty and bitchy, and her bits sound more like a recitation of a guest list at a Los Angeles hotspot than a crafted joke (although she will occasionally touch on pressing topics such as Paris Hilton’s vagina). Gay men have largely been consumers of comedy but rarely creators—at least not on the big stage.
Part of this is because of the constraints of gay comedy. “There’s a condescending attitude that gay entertainment has to involve drag shows or men being effeminate,” says Brent Sullivan, a New York-based comedian. “I did a show in Chelsea the other day where there was this screaming queen who did a lot better than I did. Even homophobes could enjoy that because you are putting yourself into this box that they’ve created for you. But I think we haven’t challenged the gay-friendly straight men of this world to actually enjoy a gay character or enjoy gay entertainment because we haven’t given them anything to enjoy.”
Sullivan, who has been performing stand-up for nearly a decade, admitted that, while he has been out since college, he wasn’t always necessarily open with his audience. “I used to try to assimilate. I’d get on stage and say, ‘So, I was with my wife…’ I was, like, 19 and talking about my wife! I stopped doing that when I moved to New York. But what should I say? Should I refer to my ‘partner’? I don’t have partners; I have guys that I blow.”
While many “straight” comedies skewer the social ineptitude of straight men within society (see: Curb Your Enthusiasm), there’s a lack of storylines for the awkward gay man. That’s why Sullivan co-created the webseries It Gets Betterish last year with best friend and fellow comic Eliot Glazer. “After years of going out together and being depressed and baffled by the guys we met at bars, we thought, ‘We should channel this into something productive,’” Glazer explains. The series, comprising of nine episodes so far, follows “Eliot” and “Brent,” two gay New Yorkers struggling to fit in within the gay lifestyle. In one episode, Eliot and Brent spar with a drunk straight woman who is eager to become their fag hag. In another, the duo are invited to a sex party, but their anxieties overwhelm their desires to participate in an orgy. “Is there an air conditioner or a window fan nearby? Eliot sweats like a hog,” Brent says. “I have this thing where I don’t take my shirt off, so is it cool if I wear a red mesh tank-top and no bottoms?”
It’s a brilliant and refreshing look at a character that has long been ignored. It’s also indicative of the problem with the highly sexualized gay culture. Those who don’t fit into the svelte, muscular, tank-top wearing image of the American gay man are typically overlooked. “I was out from the beginning,” says Dave Holmes, who got his start as the runner-up on MTV’s Wanna Be a VJ contest, which later led to hosting gigs on MTV and FX. While he’s played gay in a guest spot on Reno 911!, Holmes has generally avoided gay themes when performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles. “It’s never been a big deal for anyone,” Holmes says. “When you look like me, nobody cares about who you fuck.”
Glazer says that the reaction to It Gets Betterish has been positive, although he wishes it had gotten more traction among gay audiences. “Comedy blogs and comedy people seemed to really like it,” he explains. “It’s pointedly extremist because we tried to write the best comedy we can but with an underlying subtle message that changes what it means to be gay—that we’re not all what’s painted on the local news or on Bravo. We were hoping places like Out or The Advocate would look to us as two guys who were doing something different.” Such magazines, however, still point to Kathy Griffin as a leading gay entertainer. “Yes, she’s a gay-friendly comic,” Glazer says, “but she’s not a gay comedian.”
This generation of comics did not grow up with gay role models within their industry; Glazer and Liedman pointed to women from the ’80s and ’90s like Paula Poundstone and Rita Rudner rather than comics like Rip Taylor or ’70s game show personalities Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde. But they’re attempting to forge alternative narratives of what it means to be gay, and are essentially becoming role models themselves. “How many gay people feel uncomfortable at one point or another and then turn on [Logo reality show] The A-List to see this terrifying depiction of soulless imbeciles roaming through the streets of the city with nothing to do but fight about someone’s hot-air balloon ride?” Glazer asks. “We want to provide an alternative.”
To a certain group of twenty-something urbanites like me, Whit Stillman is something of a god. I was too young to really appreciate the writer-director’s most famous film, The Last Days of Disco, Stillman’s 1998 portrait of a group of post-collegiate New Yorkers pairing up in the fading days of the disco scene. But seeing it as a post-collegiate New Yorker, the alienation resonates. I dug into Stillman’s earlier work—1990’s Metropolitan and 1994’s Barcelona—which complete his “doomed bourgeois in love” trilogy, and eagerly awaited the next Stillman masterpiece. It took a while, but after 14 years, Stillman has finally delivered. His newest film, Damsels in Distress, is another comedy of mannerlessness set at a fictional northeastern college, and hits theaters April 6. The new film is full of familiar Stillmanesque characters, still immensely relatable: imperfect, sometimes obnoxious, and all struggling to find where they fit in. Though Stillman was at the forefront of the ’90s independent film boom, he never really fit in. Despite delivering three critically acclaimed films (he received an Oscar nomination for Metropolitan), his movies lacked the gritty edge of Pulp Fiction or Boogie Nights. Rather than embrace the supercharged techniques of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, Stillman took a more classic approach to filmmaking: completing character-driven scripts, avoiding salacious subject matter, and examining the morals at play within societal constructs. “I really think films started going bad around 1942,” he tells me. Coming from him, this is not particularly shocking.
I am very nervous to meet the peripatetic Stillman for coffee at Pécan Café, a restaurant on the corner of Franklin and Varick Streets just a few doors down from the Tribeca apartment he is subletting. I had spent the week re-watching his films and feared that the writer-director would be the doppelgänger of one of his over-intellectual Upper East Side misanthropes. When speaking to members of the Damsels cast, I realized I was not alone in my apprehension. “He’s a man of such etiquette,” Adam Brody, who plays the film’s love interest, told me. “I’ve since given it up, but when he used to email me, I would be very self-conscious about my replies, making them very formal in order to match him.” Greta Gerwig admitted that, to prepare for her lead role, she “tried to live in a way Whit would approve of.” But as soon as Stillman and I sit down, my anxiety abates. Dressed in a white dress shirt and a colorful plaid blazer, Stillman resembles a college professor rather than an Academy Award nominee. He’s soft-spoken, inquisitive, and lovably curmudgeonly, and he apologizes for bringing along a plastic shopping bag carrying a crumpled dress shirt that he plans to drop off at the cleaners after our interview. Almost immediately, he reveals how he has started to catch on to the anticipation of his first film in nearly 15 years. “[Damsels] was selected as the surprise film at the London Film Festival,” he tells me, “and it was a really bad idea. Everyone was expecting My Week With Marilyn or the new Twilight film. That was their taste. The good thing was that the press was there and they really liked it, but the response on Twitter was incredibly negative—people seem obsessed with how much they hated it. they really took it personally.” (I should note that in 1998, the average moviegoer did not have an accessible public outlet on which to play movie critic.)
Though it’s surprising to me that anyone could dislike a Whit Stillman film, I recognize his oeuvre is still very much a niche market. Focusing on characters living in the upper-crust of society, Stillman’s films likely alienate the movie-going masses. But despite its sociological exclusivity, his work still points to larger truths about man’s place within society. He also succeeds at creating a surreal universe of his own. Damsels is the first of Stillman’s films to take place in the present day, yet his stilted language and vintage-inspired costumes, not to mention the Gershwin song-and-dance number at the end, create a severe dissonance for modern audiences. Stillman’s own tastes tend toward the classic comedies of Golden Era directors like Preston Sturges. (He even proudly compares Gerwig to Irene Dunn. “Have you seen The Awful Truth?” he asks. “You need to watch it.”) While incorporating some uncomfortably comedic situations, like when one damsel is coerced by her boyfriend to have anal sex based on a fringe Catholic philosophy, the film still inhabits the Whit Stillman universe wherein young women find comfort through dance and where their dashing suitors force them into “tailspins,” the antiquated term Gerwig’s character prefers for a depressive state.
Audiences tend to identify with the outsider. Huck Finn was a hero, as was the titular Shane. But Stillman’s protagonists, outsiders all, are never completely heroic. Metropolitan’s Tom Townsend, whose lower-class status at first garners the audience’s sympathies, soon reveals himself to be a snobbish heartbreaker who tosses away the affections of the innocent Audrey Roget. In The Last Days of Disco, ’90s indie queen Chloe Sevigny plays Alice Kinnon, a timid and cold editorial assistant who, despite being tragically unlucky in love, also takes out her aggression by kicking a puppy while jogging in Central Park.
The same messiness comes into play in Damsels. At first glance, Lily, a new transfer student at the less-than-competitive Seven Oaks College, seems like the rational counterpart to the fibbing, obsessive-compulsive Violet, the leader of a trio of girls who favor tap dancing and perfumes as suicide-prevention tactics. Things get complicated once Lily and Violet fall for Charlie (Adam Brody), a super-senior who tries to pass himself off as a young professional working in the field of “strategic development.” The young women find this incredibly enticing despite not knowing what such a position entails. Through the course of the film, Lily realizes that Violet’s affinity for sad-sacks and losers, as well as her aspiration to change the course of humanity by starting a new dance craze, bespeaks a shallow nature. But Violet also shows a curious self-awareness. “You probably think we’re frivolous, empty-headed, perfume-obsessed college coeds,” she tells Lily early in the film. “You’re probably right. I often feel empty-headed. But we’re also trying to make the world a better place.” “My character sort of plays along with the audience’s reaction [against Violet],” Tipton told me. Gerwig originally auditioned for the Lily role, but was more interested in Violet. “She’s totally crazy and totally a liar, yet totally sincere,” Gerwig said. “She is all of those things, and she’s so critical. But she’s also critical of herself and, in a roundabout way, trying to make the world better.”
Despite her flaws, Stillman makes it clear that it’s Violet who is the film’s hero. “The Lily character is actually the nemesis of the film,” he explains. “People need all the help they can get not to dismiss Violet as the mean girl.” It’s not necessarily the film’s fault that most audiences might miss the mark; on the contrary, it might be evidence of Stillman’s powerful writing. He’s able to craft characters who aren’t cut-and-dry, whose moral ambiguities are as important as, if not more important than, the film’s plot. “The secret key to the films,” he continues, “is that the outsider characters are not portrayed very sympathetically. There’s this fiction that I think is very dangerous in almost all popular films that have the sympathetic, identifiable outsider character who’s a good person while the other people are bad. In my films, it’s the outsider character that doesn’t learn anything. A lot of people reject that.”
Stillman’s obsession with outsiders and insiders might stem from his past. The son of a Democratic politician and the grandson of E. Digby Baltzell, whose sociological study of the American protestant class system popularized the term “WASP,” Stillman navigated the demimonde with charm, invention, and the moral ambiguity one finds in his heroes. “The only way I survived debutante parties and awkward social situations was by making stuff up about myself. I couldn’t go as myself to these things,” he explains. “You say who you are and everyone turns their backs. But if you just make something up, generally they are much more interested. When I went to those parties, I found that if you were from Tyler, Texas, or Tyler, Idaho, those very pretty, preppy girls were really interested. But if you were just Joe Preppy from Madison Avenue…”
That goes a long way explaining why the 60-year-old Stillman still examines the social lives of those in their early twenties. “That is the identity formation period, when you’re making important romantic and career decisions,” he explains. “Friends ask me, ‘Why don’t you do stuff about people our age?’ Basically, you’re 16 all your life; once you become 16, nothing changes except that you grow feeble and die. The plight of the 50-year-old? Meh.”
It was a group of young actors and filmmakers who inspired the completion of Damsels. Upon meeting Gerwig, Stillman was fascinated with the ways she and her mumblecore cohort financed their films on miniscule budgets. “I’m not sure about the actual films themselves,” he says, “but the whole style of mumblecore is an exciting thing that revitalized this film.” The micro-budget financing of films like Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Puffy Chair pushed Stillman to make Damsels on the cheap. Despite his critical success with his earlier films, he found it difficult to maneuver the business side of the film industry. “There was a bubble,” he says of the independent film movement of the late ’90s. “It didn’t pop exactly, but the air was going out quickly.” “Indie” quickly became a buzzword and its own commercialized genre. “After Disco, people told me, ‘No, Whit, you’ve got to do things the industry way now,’” he confesses. “The industry way for me was not making a film for ten years. You do this star-casting and equity financing, and you wait around forever. It’s just wheels spinning.”
Gerwig confesses that Stillman’s name was on a list of directors she handed to her agent. When she heard he was casting Damsels, she said, “I was just thrilled that he was making a movie because I wanted to watch it.” Analeigh Tipton, whose role in Damsels is her largest to date, admitted that she wasn’t familiar with Stillman when she was offered the chance to audition. “I was shooting Crazy, Stupid, Love and sitting in the trailer with Julianne Moore, and she asked me what I was working on next,” Tipton told me. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m looking at this Whit…Somebody project?’ Julianne threw her makeup down and said, ‘Whit Stillman?!’ I thought, ‘I guess I can’t say no after that.’”
It must be an ego boost for an A-list actor to eagerly shout your name, but Stillman hardly reacts when I retell Tipton’s story. After all, should Stillman make another movie in the next decade (he is working on a script set in 1960s Jamaica), it’s unlikely he’ll cast boldfaced names in place of younger, inexperienced actors. But he’s got some other ideas, too. “Musicals have been wrecked by Broadway audiences,” he declares. “I was thinking of doing a period musical, but the audience would have to be in period, as well. They wouldn’t be allowed to give standing ovations or squeal and yell at the stage.”
And with that, Stillman grabs his dirty laundry, scoots back his chair, and heads outside.
Fashion shoots aren’t just standing around in the harsh L.A. sun. Or…are they? Yeah, they pretty much are, but when set to music (in this case, "Days" by The Drums) it seems so much more poetic. Take a look at the behind-the-scenes shoot of our April/May cover story with the lovely Anna Faris.
Eagle-eyed viewers can glean all sorts of secret information. Did you know that Ms. Faris paired her Salvatore Ferragamo pant suit with a pair of Uggs? Also there’s a pretty sick tilt of Ms. Faris in a shiny dress (by Paco Rabanne) that never made it into print. For the small cadre of comedy nerds who enjoin passion of The Harold with knowledge of fashion, this video is for you.
Christopher Campbell, our fashion director, just came over to my desk to inform me that she didn’t so much "pair" her Uggs with her pantsuit. "It’s just that we knew the shot was going to be cropped and they were more comfortable than a pair of heels." Truth in comedy, folks!
Had they not become two of Hollywood’s alpha comedy stars, were they not starring in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the latest comedy from the brothers Mark and Jay Duplass, had their lives not assured each a place in the pantheon of funny man heroes—one for bringing heart to The Office, the other for ensuring that a small felt frog named Kermit and his slightly overbearing fiancée would never be forgotten—Ed Helms and Jason Segel probably would have been this generation’s Hall & Oates. Instead, they might be this generation’s Odd Couple.
In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Segel plays Jeff, a weed-obsessed, emotionally drifting man-child. The film begins with him perched on a toilet, recording a voice memo to himself on the merits of Signs, M. Night Shyamalan’s paean to fate. Later, Jeff sets out on a Shyamalanian quest for purpose across Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he encounters his blowhard brother Pat (Helms), who is struggling with his own ontological and marital unease. Epiphanies ensue. One such revelation: It would be an abomination if Helms and Segel, both passionate musicians, never jammed together. And so, with a garage, a Gretsch and a prayer, we made it happen. Here now the evidence from the greatest band that never was.
Among the things that make Anna Faris laugh: The word “squeakquel”; chubby ponies; the miniature campsite murder diorama she’s been working on for six months; the idea of one errant boob, if handled properly.
Of the comedic potential of that last item, the actress is intimately familiar. She, more than most, straddles the line separating sexiness and comedy. Over lunch at Cheebo, a Sunset Boulevard cafe, Faris, in overalls, a t-shirt, just a hint of makeup, and big round sunglasses, embodies the definitive answer as to whether the two are mutually exclusive. (The answer is no, they are not.) Nevertheless, she says, “It’s really hard to incorporate sexuality with comedy.” In fact, it’s hard even to find the language to do so. “You show tits in a comedic scene—I should say boobs, not tits. Who likes that word? If you show a woman’s breasts in a comedic scene—” Nope, not right either. Faris pauses, then decides to go with the clinical. “If you show a woman’s mammary glands, if it’s done poorly, it instantly takes away from the comedic element of the scene. It’s too jarring. But [my husband] Chris [Pratt] and I were pitching around a character, a Hollywood-mess character on the red carpet at the opening of a movie. She’s talking to these journalists and she’s wasted. One boob is completely out, and she’s talking on and on, like, [Faris slurs] ‘I’m so excited to be here.’ If you held it long enough and kept it going, just the one boob, it would be so funny.”
Though Faris demurs when asked if the errant-breasted starlet is based on a real person, she’s walked the red carpet quite a few times herself—without a wardrobe malfunction to date. She’s the star of the four movies in the Scary Movie franchise, romantic comedies like The House Bunny and What’s Your Number?, and family comic fare Yogi Bear. She’s made a career of playing approachability hot, guileless naïfs floating in a sea of absurdity.
Her new project, Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, brings the absurdity to a higher and more overtly political level. Baron Cohen, the king of a certain genre of fact/fiction–bending satire, plays the bearded dictator of a fictional, Libya-esque country called Wadiya, who flees to America after being deposed. At the Oscars, he was the one who spilled Kim Jong-il’s ashes on Ryan Seacrest. Faris plays Zoë, an activist who, in her words, “runs a co-op grocery store in Brooklyn that has an organic farm on the roof. She’s very well-intentioned.” But like all Baron Cohen enterprises (or authoritarian dictatorships), secrecy is tantamount. “I think that’s all I’m allowed to say,” Faris apologizes.
Even if Faris had carte blanche to discuss the film, it wouldn’t matter. She is only vaguely certain the course the plot will take anyway. “We shot a lot,” she says, “it’ll be a surprise to me what storylines they keep in and what they don’t.” Even how she got the role baffles her. “When it comes down to it, I think I got the role because I’m willing to just make an ass out of myself.”
Unlike The House Bunny or Yogi Bear, much of The Dictator was improvised. “You have to really be on your toes be very malleable,” says Faris. “Sacha definitely thrives on making people uncomfortable. He’s like a bulldog that way. When he senses he’s making someone mildly uncomfortable, he just clenches on and won’t let go. It’s fun for an actor to be able to play off that. You just had to be alert. There was a lot of Red Bull-drinking on my part.” For the first time at brunch, Faris takes off her sunglasses, revealing her big, slate-blue eyes. Looking up at the waiter, she orders a bacon, avocado and egg white scramble— with one adjustment. “I don’t do egg whites,” she says. The shades go back on.
If things had gone differently, Faris might be nursing a whisky and discussing Stanislavski. As a burgeoning young actor in Seattle, she took her craft very seriously, getting her start at the age of nine playing Young Clara in Arthur Miller’s Danger Memory at a local Seattle community center. “I got $200 for the run of the show and I bought myself a piano phone. That was my first big purchase,” Faris says wistfully. She continued with hefty fare. “I was cast in all dramatic stuff: a play about the Holocaust, Heidi, To Kill a Mockingbird, and these plays that my parents just loved and were very—whatever the opposite of Scary Movie is.”
But when she wasn’t befriending Boo Radley or bearing witness, Faris was studying the matriarchs of American comedy. “I would come home every day, and if my mom wasn’t home—because she didn’t let us watch TV—I would watch The Carol Burnett Show religiously, and Golden Girls. I was crazy about those women. And then later on, Goldie Hawn in Overboard. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but they became big influences in my life.”
Faris came to comedy accidentally and at the tail–end of her stage career. Dispirited after a string of disappointing grades, she had dropped out of the University of Washington’s theater program, and graduated instead with a degree in English. But she continued to work, starring in local commercials (for the restaurant Red Robin and as a cancer-stricken girl for a local medical center), voiceovers, and human resource training videos. Her big break came in 1999, when she was cast in Lovers Lane, a horror film shot in Seattle. (“I played a cheerleader that got gutted,” she says.) On the strength of that role, she was asked to submit an audition tape for a parody film, tentatively titled Scream If You Know What I Did Last Halloween.
Within weeks of her audition, Faris found herself on a Vancouver film set. “I was scared shitless,” she says. “First of all, I don’t do comedy. Second of all, I have no idea what I’m doing on a set, like, having a trailer? I’d also never worked that hard, those kinds of hours. I was just in college—I took naps every day!”
Ironically, her dramatic training may have been the unforeseen key to Faris’s comedic success. “Keenan [Ivory Wayans, the director of Scary Movie] would laugh whenever I was trying to be dramatic, so I learned what he found amusing was that sincere quality.” What might have pierced the ego of a lesser actor has, instead, buoyed Faris. “I do think that’s sort of my weird place in the comedic world. I’m comfortable with people laughing at me.”
That sincerity has become Faris’ trademark. No matter how ridiculous the scenario in the Scary Movie or subsequent films, including Gregg Araki’s stoner trip Smiley Face, no matter how outsized her own characters are, as in the essentially quiet Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation, Faris’ endlessly expressive face reads as totally open. There’s no hint of a wink. She’s the straight man, except that she’s a beautiful woman.
Encouraged by films like Bridesmaids that have demonstrated the earning potential of raunchy, female-driven comedies, Faris is blazing ahead with a series of projects that upend prevailing storylines. The first is tentatively titled Besties, written by Deanna Kizis, which is “loosely based on my own life,” says Faris. “It’s inspired by a stalker roommate. My agent wants me to be the girl who is getting stalked, but I really want to be the stalker girl, I really do. It would be so fun. I think I’m going to have to put my foot down. It would kill me to work with another actress who is having all the fun.” The other project is Gold Diggers, a script about a titular pair of money-grubbing sisters, Faris likened to a female Wedding Crashers. “We are trying to find our other sister,” Faris says, “She must be out there somewhere.”